BOULDER — The nondescript building in east Boulder is like many other in the city; is, in fact, identical to several surrounding structures. Passing motorists and pedestrians wouldn’t know that there’s a multi-million dollar manufacturing operation inside. And that’s the way the folks at CW Hemp want it.
Even if someone did manage to peek inside the 18,000-square-foot lab, warehouse and office space, they wouldn’t know that one of the most famous strains of hemp in the world is processed here.
Between 600 and 1,000 units of CW’s product ship from the premises each month, extracted from a strain of the plant called Charlotte’s Web, made famous by the 2013 Sanjay Gupta-hosted CNN documentary “Weed.”
Gupta, who had previously come out in opposition to marijuana legalization, reversed course after interacting with then six-year-old Charlotte Figi, who suffered from severe seizures as a result of Dravet Syndrome.
Charlotte’s story, and the tales of many other children like her with debilitating physical conditions, sparked a wave of media coverage and an influx of desperate parents to the Colorado Springs dispensary where the Stanley brothers were selling extracts from their low-THC strain that they later named after their first patient, Charlotte.
The waiting list for the product grew to 15,000. So the Stanley brothers — Jared, Jesse, Joel, Jon, Jordan, and Josh — set up a lab and production facility in Boulder in 2014, and CW Hemp (then called CW Botanicals) was born.
Today, they grow 150,000 hemp plants on 65 acres in Wray. Every pound is brought to Boulder where it is extracted and combined with organic olive or coconut oil and then sold by the truckload on the company’s website — more than $1 million worth in each of the past two months.
“We’re looking at sales we’ve never seen before,” said Vijay Bachus, CW’s director of operations.
Bachus, a Longmont resident and University of Colorado grad, came to CW in December after 10 years facilitating brand growth in the natural foods world, including at Longmont’s Madhava Sweeteners and Boulder Organic Foods.
Now, he is prepared to do the same with the two-year-old CW as it undergoes a rebranding and effort to move into retail. The products are currently available in Alfalfa’s and Mountain Mama’s, a Colorado Springs chain.
But Bacus is already thinking big — a national pharmacy rollout, small packets in every convenience store and gas station in America, even international expansion to the EU and South America.
“We’re working on becoming the Kleenex of the industry.”
Vijay Bachus, director of production operations at the CWHemp facilities in Boulder, on July 6, 2016. Bachus, a Longmont resident, has a long career helping brands grow nationally. He previously worked for Longmont’s Madhava Sweeteners and Boulder Organic (Paul Aiken, Daily Camera)
That’s often an insult levied against the company, whose product became synonymous with the non-psychoactive CBD during the media coverage of hundreds of parents moving their ill children to the state to gain access to Charlotte’s Web.
Thousands of patients ended up in a holding pattern for the product as demand overwhelmed supply — and all across Colorado, industry veterans say, dozens of dispensaries had backstocks of CBD oil on the shelves.
Joel Stanley, now CEO of CW, respectfully disagrees with that assessment, saying the boom in CBD products started after Gupta’s “Weed” aired.
“Prior to that point, there was almost nothing with CBD in it,” Stanley said. “Very few people could even pronounce cannabidiol. After the piece, in 2013, is when it blew up. There were 13, then 30, then 100 CBD things on Amazon.”
Whether the Stanleys were the pioneers or merely the poster children, many in the industry agree CW gave a giant boost to the idea that cannabis could do more than just get people high.
“It gave idea that this is medicine,” said Travis Howard, owner of Gunbarrel’s Green Dream medical dispensary and Niwot’s Shift Cannabis consulting. “Without that story and Sanjay Gupta and the rest, a lot of states might not be moving.”
“It got the conversation going,” added Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industries Association. “We have 25 states that have enacted an effective medical marijuana law (where) patients don’t have to fear going to jail and they’re able to obtain cannabis through an open and safe location.”
Those individual state efforts and the passage of a federal farm bill categorizing hemp as a distinct product from marijuana have led to a booming industry of hemp-derived products.
The Boulder-based Hemp Business Journal estimated that sales of hemp products in the U.S. reached $593 million in 2015, with CBD making up 14 percent of those sales.
By 2020, HBJ predicts the hemp market will grow to $1.8 billion, with CBD revenue accounting for a quarter of that.
CW is well positioned to take a significant share of that market.
Besides the rebranding and move into retail, the company is targeting a new demographic through their affiliated nonprofit Realm of Caring: military veterans, suffering from PTSD.
The company has also teamed up with Johns Hopkins University to do a clinical trial on the effects of CBD on chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Retired Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer has toured the CW facility in Boulder, and he and other players are advocating for research.
Also in the works is a million-dollar research and development project — top secret — to help the business compete with pharmaceutical-focused peers like Britain’s GW.
Both are part of a larger effort to distance themselves from their national image as peddlers of pot for tots, said Graham Carlson, chief operating officer for CW — even if that means changing the narrative that gave them their success.
“This is not some hippie with a ponytail and beard selling snake oil,” Carlson said.
No matter how they grow, Stanley said, the company remains committed to its social mission.
“We started this before there were any dollar signs,” he said. “We are a social enterprise regardless of how fast we grow. We really believe in what we do and you’ll our money is where our mouth is.”
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